HE’S SO EXCITED TO GO TO CHURCH

HE’S SO EXCITED TO GO TO CHURCH

Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments

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(Pinch-hitting for the groom-to-be)

Neal Pollard

Last weekend, we had an opportunity to see good friends of ours when Kathy did a Ladies Day in “L.A.” (Lower Alabama). We met Justin and Anna Maynard when they served as missionaries in Tanzania, and we have also been to Israel with them. They have two beautiful Standard Poodle puppies, a girl named Ruby and a boy named Colton. They are both smart, but Colton has to be a canine Einstein. Perhaps the best measure of his intelligence is his absolute love of going to the church building with Justin (see picture below). Some years ago, I wrote about a dog from my childhood that was faithful to be at the building when the church met (The Dog At Church). What I appreciate about Colton is how eager he is, every single time, to “go to church.” When Justin asks, “You wanna go to church?,” Colton goes ballistic! When he gets there, he sprints to the door and impatiently waits for his “dad” to open the door. Then, he runs around excitedly (I watched him do laps around the auditorium for several minutes before contentedly sprawling out on the floor to rest). He does a flying leap onto one of the other minister’s couch and thoroughly enjoys the whole experience at the church building.

His enthusiasm is so high, it made me think of what David once said: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psa. 122:1). The sons of Korah described being in the house of the Lord, “with the voice of joy and thanksgiving” (Psa. 42:4). Maybe it was his memories of “sweet fellowship together” with others who “walked in the house of God in the throng” (Psa. 55:14). In those last two passages, the writers look back with longing to a time when they could do freely what now was impossible to do. They longed to be there. The psalms, as much as any book, describes zealous worshippers. Think about Psalm 95:6, which admonishes, “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker!”

I watched Colton and I asked myself, “Do I have that attitude toward going to ‘church’?” Frankly, I can let a sour mood or personal problems or distractions dampen my joy and zeal for being there. Here’s a creature who will not live eternally, is not made in the image of God, and for whom Jesus did not die, but whose unbridled enthusiasm is overflowing! The next time I’m tempted to grumble or grimace as I approach the “next appointed time,” I hope I will remember Colton Maynard, who loves to go to church! 

Colton and Justin
ESSENTIAL

ESSENTIAL

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

  • Grocery store–Place where we buy food to sustain our physical bodies
  • Restaurant–Place where we pay someone else to provide food for our physical bodies
  • School–Place where our children receive an education to prepare them to live on earth as adults
  • Hospitals and Doctor’s office–Place where we go to address issues with our physical health
  • Workplace–Place where we go to earn money to take care of our physical needs

There are other places that have remained open or reopened whether to provide what we’d deem essential or places that are more diversionary but which various experts call essential to economic or social survival (malls, bookstores, ballfields and arenas, etc.). In fact, “essential” can be put into a lot of categories–academic, economic, social, emotional, medical, physical, and spiritual.

Pandemic restrictions have impacted and altered public behavior for almost a year. It’s more than mask mandates, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and the severe reduction of handshakes and hugs. It has been the reduction of personal interaction at the assemblies. Many congregations have devised virtual means of meeting for Bible class and worship. Just like virtual doctor visits, online instruction, and telecommuting lack the desired qualities of the in-person alternative, so it is with the virtual gathering. 

The first-century church labored under restrictions, too. The threat was not a virus, but often a virulent government hostile to their faith. Christians in various places faced severe persecution and even the death penalty if this identity was known (Mat. 24:9; Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). The assemblies were an easy way for Rome to know a Christian’s identity. Despite the potential cost of discipleship, what do we find the early Christians doing and being commanded to do? As a good preacher friend, Terrence Brownlow-Dindy, recently said, Acts 20:7 not only told the saints when to take the Lord’s Supper (the first day of the week) but also how (come together). Despite governmental interference and opposition to them, Christians were still commanded to assemble (Heb. 10:25). It was essential to be present to stimulate each other to love and good deeds (10:24). It was essential to be present to encourage one another (10:25). It was essential to be present to prepare for Christ’s second coming (10:25). 

What’s the difference between the risks incurred in Cracker Barrel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby walking aisles, touching items, and standing in line with strangers and coming together and running any risks we might incur by assembling together for worship and Bible class? The commodities and services provided at places like those at the beginning of this article serve us only in this life. The wisdom of God, who designed the church including the importance of coming together, commands assembling to address our most essential need. It is absolutely true that Christianity is not confined to the church building, a great lesson we discovered or remembered at the start of this crisis. Perhaps, though, we inferred from this that actually coming together was less essential than shopping, going to school, and going to work. 

I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ at stores, restaurants, weddings, and funerals who have not come into the church building to give and receive the fellowship and encouragement God made essential both for our own spiritual health and that of our spiritual family. Scripture repeatedly tells us the earth and all its works will be burned up some day (2 Pet. 3:10). Our souls will never die. As we prioritize the essentials, what is more essential than that? The dictionary defines essential as “absolutely necessary; extremely important.” If anything qualifies, our assemblies do. 

Yearning To Assemble

Yearning To Assemble

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

Yesterday was an emotional day. As expected, our attendance was a fraction of our normal size. The current threat is not yet over, but it was a stride toward what we pray is an imminent return of many more. Even from behind the masks and with the required social distancing, the joy and excitement was palpable. From preschool children to even a few octogenarians, our local brethren once again were able to do as God’s people have done for 2,000 years. We had others, mostly in higher risk categories or in daily contact with those who are high risk, who parked outside and tuned in via FM transmitter. They were in proximity with each other and able to fellowship with those around them and many on their way into and out of the building. A great many at home tuned in to the Live Stream and let us know of the hope and joy they feel that we’ve taken this step, several letting us know that as soon as is medically safe they will be there, too. 

Our godly, wonderful shepherds have agonized over how to “return to normal” legally, wisely and safely. At the heart of most of their discussions and “church business” is how this “layoff” or separation or disruption will effect the faith and dedication of us sheep. Their hope is that we will view this situation as one that, for a time, made us a church full of “shut ins” that we could accommodate through virtual services (and later drive-in services) to help keep us connected rather than seeing this as the permanent arrangement or to excuse choosing other activities over assembling when there is no such crisis in place. 

None of us knows the future, and it is hard to predict how every individual will respond post-pandemic. But, the heart of each of us will be at the heart of the matter as we prayerfully decide the timetable for our return. To shape and guide us on that spiritual journey, God has given us insight into the hearts of His saints through the centuries to influence our spiritual hunger. Here is but a sampling:

  • David: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'” (Psa. 122:1; notice also Psa. 27:4).
  • Zechariah: “The inhabitants of one (city) will go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go (some versions: “Let me go too!”)'” (8:21; the whole chapter is beautiful)
  • Luke: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42; context shows them together day by day publicly and privately)
  • Hebrews’ writer: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (10:24, in the context of the assemblies).

But it’s the sons of Korah’s words in Psalm 84 that I want to close considering.

  • He saw assembling as “lovely” (1)–Appealing!
  • He saw assembling with “longing” (2)–Attractive!
  • He saw assembling as “logical” (3)–Appropriate!
  • He saw assembling as “lasting” (4,10)–Advantageous!
  • He saw assembling as “lavishing” (note “how blessed” throughout)–Abundance!

The separation and disruption was not of our choosing, but it might have and adverse effect upon us and cause us to forget the blessings of being together in praise and worship to our God. May the inspired words from saints like these help us fortify our souls as we anticipate the time when we are able once again meet each other in His presence for worship! 

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In An Average Assembly, You’ll Find…

In An Average Assembly, You’ll Find…

Neal Pollard

  • Brand new Christians
  • Young parents
  • The unemployed
  • Spiritual leaders
  • Those struggling with worldliness
  • Someone diagnosed with a serious condition
  • Strugglers with addiction
  • Couples with marital troubles
  • Those with loved ones no longer faithful to Christ
  • Widows/widowers
  • Someone who has been deeply hurt or betrayed
  • Those in serious financial debt
  • Those who are the only Christians in their family
  • Someone facing an enormous life change
  • Some who are experiencing great successes and good news
  • Empty nesters
  • Retirees
  • Community and business leaders
  • Those who grew up in the church
  • Expectant parents
  • Racial minorities
  • The highly educated
  • Extroverts
  • Introverts
  • The emotionally fragile
  • Singles
  • Divorcees
  • Those bearing burdening secrets
  • People brimming with optimism
  • Nurturers
  • Takers
  • Critics
  • Encouragers
  • The easily distracted
  • Those forced to attend
  • Hard working servants
  • The dutiful
  • The physically and mentally challenged
  • Daily Bible students
  • Non-Christians
  • Those who need to make serious spiritual changes
  • The lonely
  • Those without formal education
  • Smilers
  • Scowlers
  • The impatient
  • Notetakers
  • Probably 10,000 other “subcategories”

But, do you know what’s so amazing?  God knew that His single volume, the Bible, could reach into the hearts and lives of everyone of them through a single medium.  He calls it preaching (1 Cor. 1:18-25).  It worked 2000 years ago.  It works today.  What an awesome God to meet us right where we live through a message and means that fills our every longing.